Alex Cheng’s NBA Power Rankings

The 2020-2021 National Basketball Association (NBA) season will return on December 22 with the results from the previous season, the draft, and free agency still simmering. During an expedited off-season, exciting, promising talent was drafted, rumors buzzed around, and big free agents wobbled the NBA landscape. The Eastern Conference will be the most competitive top to bottom that it has been in over a decade, and the powerhouses which comprise the Western Conference make the upcoming season one of fierce competition and uncertainty. Below are my power rankings:

1. Los Angeles Lakers
The rich get richer adage has never been more true than with the Lakers this off-season. After pulling off a trade with the rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder to acquire point guard Dennis Schröder, the defending champions went out in free agency and managed to sign Sixth Man of the Year Montrez Harrell and former champion Marc Gasol while losing few players. With a roster of two top-four players, Lebron James and Anthony Davis, alongside a stellar supporting cast, the Lakers are clear favorites to repeat as champions.

Projected Starting Lineup: Dennis Schröder (PG), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (SG), Lebron James (SF), Anthony Davis (PF), Marc Gasol (C)
Sixth Man: Montrez Harrell

Best 2020 Off-season Move: Acquisition of Montrez Harrel on the mid-level exception (Only 9.5 mil!)

2. Brooklyn Nets
With the return of top-three player Kevin Durant and star point guard Kyrie Irving, the Nets have composed an imposing lineup without making major trades or signings this off-season. Their strong supporting cast of Caris Lavert, Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, and Landry Shamet perfectly complements the team’s need for floor-spacing and solid defense. Barring a major trade, however, the lineup simply cannot match the front-heavy Lakers point for point. Their best bet to be crowned NBA champion is to move off Lavert, Allen, and first-round picks to acquire a third de facto star such as James Harden, Bradley Beal, or Victor Oladipo.

Projected Starting Lineup : Kyrie Irving (PG), Joe Harris (SG), Caris Lavert (SF), Kevin Durant (PF), Jarret Allen (C)
Sixth Man: Spencer Dinwiddie

Best 2020 Off-season move: Trade for Landry Shamet

3. Milwaukee Bucks
Last year marked the second disappointing early exit in a row for the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led Bucks. Although the failed sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanović this off-season was embarrassing, the team made some respectable moves, including a blockbuster for Jrue Holiday and the re-signing of their franchise player, Antetokounmpo. The Bucks have the potential for a championship ring; however, I find it hard to imagine this outcome occurring with lesser star power than their opponents.

Projected Starting Lineup: Jrue Holiday (PG), Donte DiVincenzo (SG), Khris Middleton (SF), Giannis Antetokounmpo (PF), Brook Lopez (C)
Sixth Man: D.J. Augustin

Best 2020 Offseason Move: Trade for Jrue Holiday

4. Los Angeles Clippers
The biggest disappointment of the 2020 NBA was the Los Angeles Clippers’ lackluster playoff run. With great two-way players in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George alongside a solid supporting cast, the Clippers were projected to clash head-on with the Lakers and take a ring back to Los Angeles. However, that never happened. Instead, seven-year coach Doc Rivers lost his job, being replaced by his assistant Tyron Lue and a running joke was made of star Paul Goerge, nicknamed “Pandemic P.” Maybe Lue can fix the Clippers’ chemistry issues, but I’d rule a championship as unlikely.

Projected Starting Lineup: Patrick Beverly(PG), Paul George (SG), Kawhi Leonard (SF), Marcus Morris (PF), Serge Ibaka (C)
Sixth Man: Louis Williams

Best 2020 Off-season Move: Signing of Serge Ibaka

5. Boston Celtics
It may be a surprise to see the Celtics this high, especially with the loss of Gordan Hayward; however, the Brad Stevens-led franchise still has three players who can score upwards of twenty points on any night. With another year under the belts of young stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Celtics could rise to another level. The Kemba Walker injury will hurt. However, the team should be healthy come playoff time. I wouldn’t expect a ring, but a Conference Final appearance is realistic.

Projected Starting Lineup: Kemba Walker (PG), Marcus Smart (SG), Jaylen Brown (SF), Jayson Tatum (PF), Tristan Thompson (C)
Sixth Man: Aaron Nesmith

Best Off-Season Move: Drafting Aaron Nesmith

6. Philadelphia 76ers
Surprise! The Philadelphia 76ers have moved up to the sixth spot over Eastern Conference rivals such as the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors. Disregarding the fact that I am a die-hard Sixers fan, I am still a firm believer in the skill sets of the team’s two young stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. With some magic of Darryl Morey, president of basketball operations for the 76ers, the team was able to clear the cap hit of Al Horford while creating a trade exception and trade Josh Richardson for knock-down shooter Seth Curry. The team will experiment with a new lineup containing a plethora of shooters this season. I expect an Eastern Conference Final berth from the Sixers. Their ceiling is a title, especially if they trade for a superstar (i.e. James Harden), but their floor is getting swept in the second round.

Projected Starting Lineup: Ben Simmons (PG), Seth Curry (SG), Danny Green (SF), Tobias Harris (PF), Joel Embiid (C)

Sixth Man: Tyrese Maxey

Best Off-Season Move: Dumping Al Horford for Danny Green and Terrance Ferguson

Final Predictions:
Champions: Los Angeles Lakers
They are the best team. By far (unless Kevin Durant returns stronger than ever from his achilles injury).

MVP: Lebron James
James is the league’s best player who should have won the award last year.

Defensive Player of the Year: Ben Simmons
Simmons is the league’s most versatile defender and is extremely lanky.

Most Improved Player of the Year: Jamal Murray
Murray’s rise to stardom started during the 2020 playoffs. Look for Murray to continue growing.

Rookie of the Year: Lamelo Ball
Ball is the face of a rebuilding Charlotte Hornets team who is unlikely to be benched if mistakes are made.